Ready to Blow Up? Try a More Proactive Approach to Dealing with Anger in Recovery

Posted on July 9th, 2011

People in recovery know all about anger issues. They vividly remember the constant arguments, things that set them off with the least bit of provocation, the explosive emotions and sometimes violent behavior from when they were deep into their addiction. Many thought that just going into rehab for substance abuse would magically make all that anger go away.

It doesn’t quite work that way.

But there is hope. Whether you’re new to recovery or have been abstinent for a period of time, when you feel like you’re ready to blow up, try a more proactive approach to dealing with anger. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Time for a Little Self-Assessment

Before you can begin to address your anger issues, you have to know what it is that makes you angry. That calls for a little self-assessment. Don’t worry. This isn’t a painful exercise, but it is a necessary first step to learning how to effectively deal with the powerful emotion of anger.

What you’ll be doing is making a list. Identify the people, places, and things that come to mind that cause you to feel angry. It’s best to group them into these three categories because they’re easier to work on than lumping all anger-producing situations together.

You might want to further separate these into distinct sub-categories, such as work, home, activities.

Where should you start? If you sit and think about the most recent time you got angry, it won’t take long to come up with a good number of anger-producing people, places, and things. Did you have a blow-up with a co-worker over some remark that was made – that you thought was directed at you, slammed you, blamed you for poor performance, or otherwise made you feel like you were singled out to attack? Maybe these incidents happen quite frequently at your workplace. That’s an indication they’re prime candidates to put on your list. Place them under people and work.

What about heated discussions that threaten to – or do – turn violent at home? Whether it’s your spouse or children, tension in the home of the person in recovery is something that really needs to be addressed.

Maybe what sets you off is that your neighbor seems to have it all, and you think he parades his accumulation of material possessions – when you’re just struggling to get by – or portrays an attitude you deem smug or superior. You’re long past being able to have a normal conversation with this individual and, perhaps by extension, all the members of his family. Add this person and situation to your list of anger-producing items.

Fed up with the financial burden you’re in because of your addiction? Money is a huge stressor, both in families and within the recovering addict. There’s no question that arguments over money exist in every family, but when you’re in recovery, the problem just seems to be exacerbated. Definitely add this to your list if money issues cause you to blow up at your loved ones – or others.

Keep on adding people, places, and things to your list of anger-producing situations until you’ve exhausted every one you can think of. When you come up with more – and you certainly will – put them down as well.

What to Do About These Anger-Producing Situations

Now that you’ve got a good list going, the next thing you’re probably wondering is what you are supposed to do about these anger-producing situations. One of the first things you need to learn is how to avoid all the highly-charged people, places, and things that typically result in you getting angry.

This doesn’t mean that you become a hermit or lock yourself away in your room. It’s more of a practical strategy to help you steer clear of potentially negative situations while you begin the process of learning how to deal with your anger.

Naturally, it’s not always possible to avoid certain people, places, or things. You can’t just walk away from your boss or co-worker, even if they really make your blood boil. And your spouse and children aren’t going to be easy to avoid, either. After all, this is your family and they’re your responsibility. So, you do need to bite your tongue, hold back the angry retort, or leave the room for a while – at least until you’ve become more adept at managing your feelings of anger.

Recognize New Body Reactions

There’s another aspect of being in recovery that doesn’t get a lot of attention – but it should. Now that you’ve gone through treatment and are clean and sober, your body has changed and is changing all the time. You’re no longer dependent on alcohol or drugs, but your brain still craves that old feeling.

When you experience these often overwhelming and very powerful urges to use, your body reacts in different ways. You have to learn how to recognize the various types of reactions your body has to the absence of alcohol. For one thing, you’re probably quick to become agitated when you experience cravings. Yes, you’ve committed to sobriety, but that doesn’t make you feel any better when urges strike. Severe or more frequent cravings may increase your feelings of anger as well as anxiety. Such a combination is often a prelude to relapse, so you’d be wise to figure out what these new reactions are so that you can get help to deal with them.

No More Denying or Hiding Feelings

Research studies have shown that many people who used alcohol and drugs did so to cope with anger or to avoid having to face their own feelings. Many denied such feelings even existed. Alcohol and drugs helped them haze over what was bothering them and allowed them to go on without ever addressing the problems.

Now that you’re in recovery, whether you once used alcohol or drugs to keep from facing your feelings or to cover up your anger – remember getting blind drunk so you didn’t have to listen to your spouse argue over money issues? – now it’s time to get down to business and really tackle some of this back-burner stew of anger.

Professional Counseling Can be a Life-Saver

No one expects you to figure out how to work through your feelings of anger on your own. You’re not a magician and even reading how to deal with anger isn’t just going to make it disappear. If you are experiencing bouts of anger that threaten to derail your sobriety, or are making your recovery a living nightmare, professional counseling can not only put you back on the road to a normal life, it can also be a life-saver.

In a way, counseling that you seek in recovery isn’t that much different than what you went through in rehab. The big difference is that you’re already sober and are much more able to deal with recurring issues such as intense or frequent episodes of anger.

And you don’t even have to single out anger as a reason to continue counseling. Anxiety, depression, feeling hopeless, issues of self-esteem and regret are other areas where continuing psychiatric therapy can make a huge difference in your life in recovery.

When you see a professional therapist, the counselor will help you identify key areas for concern and work with you to put in place techniques that will help you keep control of your anger. This is done on an individual basis: your counselor works with you and your unique situation. There may also be group therapy sessions that your counselor recommends. Both individual and group counseling are extremely valuable in recovery.

Make Use of Support Networks

It’s often said that no one recovers alone. This is so true that it should be engraved on a plaque and given to each person who completes rehab – or tries to be abstinent on his or her own. Why do people in recovery need people? It’s for the simple fact that there’s strength in community, solidarity in numbers, and the support from self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and so on is invaluable to continuing sobriety.

Let’s take the granddaddy of them all, Alcoholics Anonymous or A.A., upon whose 12-steps and principles all other 12-step groups formed (substituting the words of the various addiction for alcohol, as in drugs, gambling, compulsive sex, overwork, overeating, etc.). Where else can you go to be among people who have gone through what you’re going through right now, who know what it feels like to be abandoned, betrayed, and shunned? Who but those who are just like you can relate how they successfully dealt with recurring nightmares, family that doesn’t understand what recovery entails, nonstop cravings and urges, explosive anger and other intense emotions?

When you’re in the rooms of A.A., you’re an equal participant with all the other members in attendance. There’s no hierarchy, no one person that’s head and shoulders above everyone else. There are no requirements for membership other than a sincere desire to be sober and to help others who also want sobriety. There are no monthly dues or fees, and you can come and go as you wish, attending meetings wherever and whenever they are offered.

The A.A. fellowship is a world-wide community, with groups in every major city and many small towns and rural areas as well, in all 50 states, and a growing number of international locations.

Your 12-step sponsor in A.A. and other 12-step groups is probably the single-most important person in your entire support network. He or she is committed to being there for you whenever you need help. On the phone, before or after meetings, other in-person discussions, your sponsor will help guide you through the rough spots, always be there to listen to your troubles, and offer nonjudgmental support and understanding as you work through the steps in recovery.

Consider Further Changing Your Lifestyle

Recovery experts caution that you shouldn’t make any major life changes during the first year of your recovery. That means you shouldn’t get married or divorced, buy or sell your home, decide to start a family, or any other major life decision during this time.

After the first year, however, it is an opportune time to make some of the changes that you may have identified as important to your continuing recovery.

For some people, major lifestyle changes have to occur well before the end of the first year. If your work situation has deteriorated to such an extent that you can no longer continue working there, you’d be well advised to look for new employment. If your past addictive behavior has ruptured your family life to the point where you’ve been summarily kicked out – for the well-being of other family members – you’re already embarking on a new chapter in your life, even though it’s probably not one you intended.

The point is that when you take the time to identify what it is that makes you angry, taken steps to avoid the people, places, and things that cause you to become angry, recognized your new body reactions to living without alcohol or drugs, sought professional counseling, and made use of your support networks, you will naturally arrive at some decisions that will be life-changing in nature.

Some of these changes you’ll want to make in your life will require advance planning. They will also take some time to accomplish. Maybe you want to change professions entirely. Such a career move may entail getting a degree or finishing a degree program you quit a long time ago.

It could involve becoming an apprentice or undergoing skills training in a different area. If you want to build your own home, this takes planning, financing, and many months to complete. Maybe you want to travel the world, or learn a new language, become more outgoing, fall in love, and do something to help humanity.

Whatever it is that you want to do, or that you now realize you need to in order to strengthen your recovery, figure out a plan to get there – and start taking the first steps toward making the decision a reality.

Give it Time

Of course, much of what’s recommended here sounds good, but nothing will work overnight. One of the best recommendations is to cut yourself some slack, give yourself time to learn how to effectively deal with angry outbursts that are often real roadblocks in recovery.

You only need to take each day one at a time. Remember that the past is dead and gone. Who you were then does not define who you are and who you choose to be today. Live in the present, working hard to strengthen your recovery. What you do today will form the foundation for tomorrow.

Do you want to stew in your own anger, lose your family, friends, and co-workers to continuing resentments and hostility that are perhaps a carryover from your addictive past? Or would you rather get on with your new life in recovery, setting and achieving new goals that you set for yourself, and learning that being clean and sober is your stepping-stone to a life of possibility?

The answer is up to you. Be proactive. Learn how to deal with your anger in recovery. But start today.

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